When it was announced the Chicago Blackhawks would be changing lines, there was certainly not a collective gasp from fans and media alike. After all, the change had proven necessary if not overdue. Coach Joel Quenneville had chosen not to mess with success, but since then the team has dropped three of its last four and failed to score more than two goals during four of their last five.
With regards to the second line, there seemed to be promise with Marcus Kruger at center alongside Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg — two forwards that love to move along the boards with the puck and could have combined for an efficient high cycle.
But it appears the struggling Bryan Bickell will get a promotion into the top-six for the first time since the season began. Bickell began on the top line but was moved down, and his struggles have only garnered more attention since returning from a leg injury. Since his return Dec. 17, Bickell has been a minus-five with two points in limited ice time.
It is unclear if Quenneville will hit something if Bickell can get his confidence back, but this move doesn’t make much sense. Bickell wants the puck on his stick which is a problem for Kane who needs possession to be successful. It is likely Bickell has been asked to simplify his game and can become a net front presence on this line which now desperately needs one.
The first line remains untouched and unabashed, and the third line of Michal Handzus, Versteeg and Brandon Saad shows promise despite Handzus’ struggles inside the top-six. However, the fourth line seems to suffer for it.
Andrew Shaw has disappeared off the face of the earth the past 30 days, registering one point despite being on the third line along Brandon Saad, an electrifying young scorer. Shaw remains a center, and will now be flanked by Brandon Bollig and Ben Smith. His defense has been consistent, but Shaw is 43.7 percent from the faceoff dot and doesn’t give coach Quenneville the same flexibility that the Kruger-led fourth line did.
Overall, thanks to the Blackhawks’ level of talent on each line, the changes are by no means a sign of desperation. The season is over halfway done, and the team simply needs to go from its midseason slump and into midseason form. Although the moves are a bit head-scratching, that’s why the games are played.
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